$100,000 for a CMS?

A local agency I have done a number of projects with mentioned to me last night that they had recently built a custom content management system for a local college. The web site had some 2,000+ pages, I was told.

I asked what the budget was and from what I remember it was in the $100,000 range (sounds like a lot) and here’s the surprising part: They said that the CMS portion alone consisted of 92 meetings to specify and build the architecture!! It was built in PHP, too. That does not include the development time which must have been significant.

How many of you just groaned and said to yourself? Overkill?!?! I did. I just can’t picture where they’ll get a return on investment for having a CMS this robust (and probably complex), or this expensive. The agency head told me they underbid it as well. Double groan.

Let’s run some hypothetical numbers for a minute just for fun.

Let’s say this system lasts 5 years. That’s optimistic. They’ll want to revamp it at that point anyways with some significant changes, no doubt. Think five years is too short? Well, it’s not. A system this big will have problems, require upgrades, and constant support. Plus don’t forget training staff to use it. There’s another $10,000/year or more to hire a developer for occasional upgrades and support. Throw in the fact that a web developer hired on staff can be bought for somewhere between $30,000 and $50,000 a year and you have some serious questions about return on investment.

Questions: What sorts of success have you had with custom content management systems and what results do you have to report about improved return on investment? What kinds of results did you really have? Was it worth it?

Why do people need these robust CMSs? Is it to control content? Layout? With CSS now it’s easy to control layout globally. And why not use an out of the box CMS? There are hundreds of great high-end CMSs on the market today.

I think content management systems are better left to systems where large numbers of people will be able to log in and manage content, like 10 or more people. When you’re looking at a small subset of users it just doesn’t make any sense, at least rarely at $100,000. If it cost 10-20% of that huge price then it can be a great decision.

In doing research for this post, I ran across a few CMSs that I hadn’t known about. Midgard Project CMS (Open Source), the OpenCMS project, CityDesk, Typo3, PureCMS (I knew about this one), and Bricolage.

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